Vie is for Volume – Vie
There is a thin sounding board – a line in the decibel sand – between excitement and exasperation. Restaurants as organizations appeal to their market niche not just in cuisine and cost, but in clamor and clatter. And the politics of noise can be the undoing – or the doing – of sterling restaurants.
Last Saturday, frightened by the ongoing repairs on the Edens Expressway, feeling cut off from the Chicago dining hub, my wife and I headed west: to Western Springs and Vie, a restaurant that I had once visited on a calm – nearly empty – Tuesday night. Arriving Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. we were escorted into a jangling, buzzy dining space (Vie has a warren of small spaces, not well soundproofed). Despite polished service and Chef Paul Virant’s impressive and confident locavore, seasonal cuisine, what was most memorable about the first half of the meal was the roar of conversation: and this in a restaurant where the tables are not snugly packed and the diners are not screaming sweet nothings. While the core of a review should properly be what is on the plate, it was sound that was on the mind. If Vie hopes to compete with the Chicago luxe restaurants and not to be a glorious bar-and-grill, Chef Virant needs to call his decorator. He gets an earful from this diner.
Given that this review lacks a sound track, I turn to the Chef’s doing. At most restaurants the appetizers are the star: the meal goes downhill from the start. This is not true at Vie: our entrees stole the show. True, my wife ordered a salad (Local Lettuces, Marinated and Shaved Fresh Hearts of Palm, Garlic and Herb Vinaigrette, Parmigiano-Reggiano), and, true, she enjoyed it exceptionally. For me it was a nicely done play on a Caesar-type salad, impressive within the genre.
My appetizer was Wood-Grilled Gunthorp Farm Duck Breast, Cracklings, Arugula, Black Raspberry Aigre-Doux, and Tatsoi (a type of bok choi; Vie helpfully places a glossary on their menu). The combination was very nice indeed, although I found the duck undercooked (mostly a problem of texture). With duck cooked more to my liking, this would have been a superior dish, especially because of the remaining textures and the pungency of the flavors.
As a main course my carnivore partner selected Marinated and Wood-Grilled Painted Hills Strip Steak (provenance is vital at locavore haunts), Baked Wisconsin Cheddar Toast, Local Asparagus, and Creamed Spence Farm Ramps (no other farm will suffice!). As with my appetizer, the meaty center of the meal was enlivened by a set of pungent companions. The dish didn’t need Worcester to have zip and zing. The beef flavor and texture did not dominate but was nicely matched.
My entrée was splendid. Throughout this mid-May menu Chef Virant teased the diner with seasonal morels in various guises. And I finally gave in to morels, baked crepes, goats milk ricotta (I believe), green garlic vinaigrette, and local Bordeaux spinach. The dish was a triumph. The morels were perfectly tender (and well-cleaned) and the garlic and crepes matched them bite for bite. Chef Virant is as expert a vegetarian as is Chef Trotter (whose vegetarian menu often surpassed his open menu: even with foie gras!). This was the dish that I will treasure: Vie is for Virtuosity.
Desserts were both successful. Baba Au Rhum is difficult to destroy, but Vie’s version – Baba Au Whisky, Dooley’s Toffee Liqueur Ice Cream, Candied Walnuts, and Caramel Sauce – is very lush. Without the whisky, it might have been too sweet, but the alcohol keeps the sugar at bay. The warm Caramel Gooey Butter Cake, Almond Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Almond Lace Cookie, and Almond Toffee Square was also sweetly striking. Although I am not a fan of “gooey” as a gourmet adjective, this cake was gooey. The toffee square was more chewy than I prefer. It was more taffy than toffee, but well-made.
Vie consistently turns out impressive cuisine. While not aiming for a pastoral environment, Chef Virant has made Vie into a destination, not only when the Illinois Department of Transportation directs traffic his way.
4471 Lawn Avenue
Western Spring, IL
5 weeks ago